Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Aboriginal Peoples

Issue 27 - Evidence, April 28, 1999


OTTAWA, Wednesday, April 28, 1999

The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 5:40 p.m. to examine and report upon aboriginal self-government.

Senator Charlie Watt (Chairman) in the Chair.

[English]

The Chairman: Honourable senators, we shall begin with our first witness, Professor Nabigon. He will be speaking today on aboriginal self-governance.

Please proceed.

Professor Herb Nabigon, Laurentian University: Meegwich. I wish to give an introduction in my native language.

(Mr. Nabigon spoke in his native language.)

My English name is Herb Nabigon. Nabigon is an old Ojibway word which means a trap or snare. It word is about 30,000 years old in this country. Our people come from the north shore of Lake Superior, and that is our traditional homeland. We have been there, according to archeological sites, for at least for 20,000 years.

I want to share with you today how we view self-government and how we make decisions for ourselves in our communities. It is important to recognize the voice of native people. I am pleased to be sitting with a collection of senators who have many years of experience in government. It is a pleasure for me to be here.

In our world, we see order in nature. Everything has order and everything has a place. We govern ourselves according to that order. That order cannot be changed. We have always maintained that connection with the natural world and how we fit it into that natural world.

On page 1 of my brief, I outline a strategy for implementing self-government. First, it should be recognized that a national will is required to outline a division of powers. Powers will be negotiated between the federal government and First Nations. A bilateral process will be established at the appropriate time to arrive at or include an agreement.

Second, First Nations should participate in the ongoing process of constitutional amendment and revision.

Third, outstanding land claims should be settled and mechanisms developed to ensure enforcement of land claims settlements. History has proven that Ottawa suffers from severe amnesia in regard to such settlements.

Fourth, economic development should be furthered so as to reduce poverty.

Fifth, essential social services of reasonable quality should be available to all status Indians.

Sixth, First Nations should be able to generate tax revenues that will improve services to the people and promote self-reliance. In the long term, such taxation will reduce dependence on federal funding.

Seventh, individual rights should be protected and respected within the context of respect for collective rights of First Nations.

Eighth, there should be equal opportunity for all status Indians.

The United States regards First Nations communities as domestically sovereign. Perhaps First Nations and Canada should consider the American experience and adopt a similar view. This view is explained in a statement by a native lawyer named Kicking Bird. He made that statement in 1977.

Treaties are very important for native people. As we understand it, treaties were signed for the following reasons: to establish exclusive trading relations; to secure the assistance or neutrality of Indian nations in warfare between the European powers, being the French and the English; to enable settlement and resource development by non-Indians when they settled the western provinces; and to extinguish the land claims of native people.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 still stands as the Magna Carta of relations between native peoples and Euro-Canadians. At the time of the Royal Proclamation, native people held the balance of power economically, socially, politically and in military might. The European powers were forced to recognize the Indian nations. The view held by native people on nation-to-nation treaty making is based on legal and historical fact.

Today, it is very important for us to recognize that this is not just a collection of small communities establishing a treaty mechanism with the governments. It is based on the Royal Proclamation, and on our idea of nationhood.

As the next step, First Nations within the context of self-government must have adequate power, resources and legitimacy. Power refers to the legally recognized authority to act, including legislative competence and jurisdiction. Other governments must recognize and respect what is done in actual practice. Resources provide the physical or economic means of acting. Legitimacy refers to public confidence and support for the government.

The current condition of dependency must move toward self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is achieved when a people have control over the resources they need and they have the capacity they require to produce their own wealth in order to meet their own needs and to participate meaningfully in regional, national and global economic activities.

Land claims play a vital role in restoring First Nation governments. Without land and our spirituality, we have no government or strength as a people. We are connected to the land, and our spiritual beliefs are very important to us as a people. We are starting to restore those spiritual beliefs in our communities.

We look at things according to the universe. The universe is divided into four cardinal points. The first one is the east, where the sun rises each morning. It represents to us renewal or capacity building.

The strategy to empower and build capacity among First Nations will be part of a larger circle of care intended to foster community development and to end welfare dependency. It is a well-known fact that the unemployment rate is between 50 per cent to 90 per cent in our communities. No nation or people can sustain healthy living patterns of life if they are dependent on handouts from the government all the time. That has never been our way of living, and we wish to change that.

The south introduces the idea of jurisdiction. For us, the south represents time and relationships. The sun moves from east to west, and at twelve o'clock the sun faces south. The sun has always been used as a time piece by primitive peoples. We still use it today as a way of reminding us of the power of the sun and how all life grows. Without the sun, nothing grows. For us, it represents time and relationships.

It will take time to restore jurisdiction with other levels of government. Realignment of federal First Nations relations must ensure that the Crown's treaty and fiduciary responsibilities are upheld, and that aboriginal treaty and human rights and jurisdiction are recognized. Time is a critical element needed to build trust and mutual respect.

Control and jurisdiction can be enhanced, first, by placing a moratorium on AFA and FTA transfer agreements because these arrangements limit sovereignty of aboriginal nations to exercise control in reform; and, second, by forming a national self-government commission empowered to administer funds with flexibility and creativity in reform. This national commission would report directly to the Prime Minister. That is how I see it.

For us, the west represents self-sufficiency and a building of inner strength and inner healing. For us, a job is the best healer. A sustainable economy must be developed that is capable of producing wealth and ensuring equitable distribution to all members through increasing land use and resources. This will include access to capital for enterprise that will include large, secondary and small enterprise and manufacturing. It will focus on circulating money within the community, and it will strengthen international indigenous people and economic networks to facilitate trade, economic cooperation and collaboration.

The north means sharing. There are many levels of sharing, including the sharing of our spirits. The sharing of resources, responsibilities and accountability for First Nation government must include the following: First, securing an adequate land base for socioeconomic development; second, access to development resources; third, access to adequate and appropriate fiscal support; fourth, adherence to the principles of resourcing inherent to aboriginal and treaty rights; fifth, First Nations bands must have a right to determine their own membership and powers, whether they are alone or formally joined with other bands, sharing the same traditions and language; sixth, Ottawa shall finance the new First Nation government, as it does the provincial governments, with equalization payments; seventh, promotion of partnerships at all levels within the circle of governments; and, eighth, respect for all aspects of the native voice and consideration of the next seven generations in its decision making.

The colour green is a healing colour for us that represents the earth. Green is a symbol of balance and listening for us. The earth nurtures the red, yellow, black and white people, and all living things. Spiritual leaders emphasize the importance of listening and paying attention to the dark side of life. The dark side of life can be defined by five little rascals that create all our problems in the world, including all our illnesses. They are: Inferiority, envy, resentment, not caring and jealousy. It means that we stop listening. Listening helps people to make the appropriate changes from negative to positive behaviour. Listening is an essential component in the foundation on which to reclaim and recreate self-government.

Finally, the spiritual teachings of honesty and kindness permeate all five colours. These colours, after green, are red, yellow, black and white for the people of the earth.

We believe we can build a world based on mutual respect and trust. Honesty and kindness are the elements of the prevailing belief system which forms the core of a foundation on which to build our concepts of self-government. It is an important first step in which traditional elders play a vital role in helping us to understand self-government at the community as well as the national level.

In conclusion, in the last few years, elders and chiefs have started to promote community-based healing by using traditional ceremonies as a way for communities to start taking over their own responsibilities in the areas that each determines is important. More recently, Mr. Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the AFN, has adopted a policy to move forward with our elders. This occurred on March 10, 1999, at the University of Sudbury, at a national elders conference.

Based on our tradition, healing builds stronger individuals, families and communities so that the existing high levels of social problems can be decreased and new forms of social, economic and political development can occur without federal government control. By its very definition, "self-government" is community-driven, whereby each community decides for itself the level of self-government it requires. The transition from colonization to nationhood will take time, but only if the spiritual foundation is strengthened and maintained can nationhood be realized in the manner in which it was given, as a gift from the Creator.

Senator Pearson: Thank you very much for your presentation. It was beautifully structured, clear and helpful. However, there are a couple of points I am not totally clear about. First, there is the AFA and FTA. I am not quite sure what those transfer agreements are. Could you explain what they are and what issues arise from them?

Mr. Nabigon: AFA and FTA are current policies enacted by the Treasury Board. The AFA is the Alternative Funding Arrangement, and FTA is the Fiscal Transfer Agreement.

I am asking for a moratorium because there is too much control and there is no flexibility at the community level for chiefs to decide on different ways to solve problems. That is basically how I understand the AFA and the FTA.

Senator Pearson: I would be interested in a further description of how these mechanisms work. I assume that a band enters into an agreement.

Mr. Nabigon: Yes. These agreements are for specific areas only. They are rigidly controlled by Ottawa, and the chief and council cannot manoeuvre within the agreements to consider, perhaps, more creative solutions to problems unless they go through a lot of red tape to have the agreements changed, and it is almost impossible to have changes made within the time frames.

Our experience is that these agreements are very colonialistic and give outsiders too much control over making decisions respecting local problems.

Senator Pearson: Under Bill C-49, would those particular transfer agreements no longer be applicable?

Mr. Nabigon: I am hoping that they will not be applicable. I do not have copies of the agreements with me. I should have brought them.

Senator Pearson: Perhaps someone else will be able to answer that question for me.

Mr. Nabigon: Those agreements create a lot of headaches for our local people when they are attempting to solve problems.

We look at it as follows: If a family has a problem, usually the parents make some decisions on how to solve these problems. However, if someone who lives outside of the family decides how those problems will be solved, it does not address the issues. That is the impact of the AFA and the FTA.

Senator Pearson: I understand that. There is always a question of how the money comes from the federal government to the nations.

Mr. Nabigon: Only one band I am aware of has sufficient control over its funding, and that is the Sechelt Indian Band in British Columbia. The other bands have these arrangements for the transfer of funds to the First Nations through the AFA and FTA.

Senator Wilson: You seem to believe that self-government is better achieved through a ground-up approach as opposed to a top-down one. Can you tell us how you would implement that?

Mr. Nabigon: I do not "seem" to believe; that is my conviction.

Senator Wilson: How would you accomplish that?

Mr. Nabigon: What I gave you is a skeletal outline. I was told that you did not want any more than five or six pages, so I did not have time to elaborate on how this could be done.

Currently there are about 600 First Nations in the country. They are small communities of between 300 and 500 people. They are scattered right across the provinces and the territories. Because they are all small communities, they organize themselves in tribal councils to make administration more efficient.

Where I come from, they have a tribal council of seven First Nations. This is how they are organizing themselves at the community level. It starts with tribal councils, and then goes to the provincial treaty organizations and finally to the Assembly of First Nations.

They want to be able to use economies of scale, so they organize themselves into tribal councils, based on their treaty area.

Where I come from, the earliest treaty was signed in 1850, the Robinson Treaty with the Ojibwa Indians of Lake Superior. That area has 18 communities, and we have two tribal councils that operate under that treaty. They are responsible for ensuring that services are provided to their members, under the control of the AFA and FTA. That is how it is organized now.

We look at it as a backward way of doing things. I gave the analogy of the family solving family problems. The same kind of principle applies at that local level. People at the local level know what their problems are, and they have a good idea of how to resolve those problems. In most cases, all they need is the technical expertise to move the issues forward.

They rely on people like myself who can write academic papers. Many of them have difficulty writing papers such as the one I presented this afternoon. The level of education in First Nations is, on average, Grade 10. However, they see themselves as the experts on local problems, not the bureaucrats in Ottawa. They see what impact unemployment and welfare have in our communities. Yet, trucks drive by our First Nations up north loaded with all the wealth coming from our land; and we are not even consulted. There is a growing resentment that the resources and the land base must be shared to solve our problems. I outline some strategies in this paper on how to achieve that.

We must turn that pyramid upside down. The people must start giving direction to the leaders. That is why I was talking about listening. Our leaders must stay quiet when our people talk, and take some direction.

Senator Andreychuk: You are saying that it should be direction from the bottom up and that the leaders will take direction. Do you wish to comment on how the federal government should negotiate within the aboriginal community?

As I understand the present process, ministers deal only with recognized leaders in the aboriginal community, whether it is a First Nations community or otherwise. Some groups have come to us and said that these leaders do not speak for them, and that they have not given them any right to negotiate on self-government. Do you believe that the federal government should continue to negotiate with these recognized aboriginal leaders, or should there be some other structures in place for self-government negotiations?

Mr. Nabigon: I have mixed feelings about that because of our history with Canada. Before confederation, our traditional chiefs spoke for the people. Today we have elected band chiefs under the Indian Act. Therefore, they are a product of colonization. I suspect that is why those people were telling you that.

For me, I still subscribe to the formal arrangements that we have through our chiefs. Our people did actually sit down and put an "X" beside a name on a ballot and voted them in, so they have the authority to speak for our people, regardless of what piece of legislation is being discussed. I recognize the authority of, for example, Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations. He speaks for me when he speaks for all First Nations in Canada.

There is a divergence of opinions in our community, as there is in any other community. I suppose I am considered a conservative by many native people. I do not want to be associated with the Reform Party, mind you, but I am a conservative.

Senator Adams: You are talking to a Conservative senator.

Senator Andreychuk: We both made the distinction. We are not Reform.

I asked the question because there is a growing problem. The off-reserve aboriginal community feels that their needs are urban and need to be addressed quickly. Should they be treated any differently, or should we still deal with them directly through band leaders?

Mr. Nabigon: I speak for the First Nations communities here, not for the urban Indians. I am not clear on their political agenda; however, I am clear about the status Indians who live on the reserve. I am aware of their problems and their issues. I am also very cognisant of how these problems could be solved. I do not pretend to speak for all natives.

Senator Andreychuk: Basically, your submission addresses First Nations.

Mr. Nabigon: It addresses First Nation communities, yes.

Senator Adams: I wish to follow up on the questions asked by Senator Andreychuk. There are significant problems in Ontario. We have heard that 45 per cent of the native population is living in the city, off reserve.

It is now more than 10 years since we passed Bill C-31 in Parliament. We heard from the women's association last night that the legislation is not working as it should. There have been significant problems in the communities.

Have you heard of people who were born on the reserves, went to live in the city, and then returned to the reserves and had problems? What do you think about Bill C-31?

Mr. Nabigon: I supported Bill C-31. Many of our chiefs are saying, "If you are a member of my First Nation, I am responsible for you, regardless of where you live, whether you live on the reserve or in the city. The services should be provided to you regardless of whether you fall under Bill C-31 or are a status Indian."

Many complex issues surround Bill C-31. The land base in most communities is too small, and there are not enough resources so that people can return home to jobs. They have problems integrating their own people back into their communities. There is significant tension between the chiefs and Bill C-31 Indians or native people. It is sad to see that being played out in your own backyard.

I believe Mr. Crombie was the minister when Bill C-31 was passed. He created the problem. The government should make serious policies to deal with Bill C-31 and urban Indians. If the national will is there, there could be ways to build an infrastructure for these people to take advantage of their rights. Too often, governments, the current government and past governments, consider native people to be a problem.

Senator Adams: The passage of Bill C-31 created quite a few problems on the reserves. At the time the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development introduced Bill C-31, I do not remember exactly how many people off reserve wanted to come back. The reserves did not have enough housing to bring those people back. At that time, we had a limit. They said, "You can go back to the community and build your own house, and we will give you something like $80,000." However, they could not be guaranteed a job or a good educational system. For people who lived for so many years in the city, life was not the same, and the adjustment was difficult. Do you agree?

Mr. Nabigon: That does happen. I will not deny that. The way I look at it, the chief and council have the worst jobs in the world because they are caught between their own people and the government through those agreements. They cannot make any decisions. No matter what decision they may try to make, there will always be criticism.

They are, in fact, administering poverty. How can you have a successful community if 50 per cent of your people have no work? When you have an influx of Bill C-31 people, what do you do with them? This is a serious problem, and it creates a significant amount of tension. We have mental health problems and addiction problems. Those problems can multiply. It is not a good scenario.

I agree that Bill C-31 creates tension. To find some hope for a better life, many people move into the city. When they get into the cities, they are not equipped. They do not have the skills to compete for jobs in the marketplace.

If I had a magic wand, I would make all of Ottawa disappear -- except for Conservative senators.

Senator Adams: You mentioned the economic difficulties with the land base. If everyone wants self-government, how do you ensure that there is a land base and adequate educational facilities? I do not know the exact number of square kilometres involved, but for self-government, people need an economy.

I still like to go hunting. Living in the Arctic, we do not have a hunting season. Of course, Ottawa regulates the hunting of some endangered mammal species.

What do you see in the future regarding land bases in the reserve communities?

Mr. Nabigon: Prior to 1867, all of Canada belonged to native people. Currently, 1 per cent of the land is owned by native people. We do not really have a land base with which to build our economies. I mentioned in the presentation that land claims must be settled. A land base is needed to develop the economies.

Our people are very intuitive. If you give them an opportunity, they will build on it. Most parents want what is best for their children. For that reason, they will build a society of which they can be proud.

Right now they do not have the tools, nor the land base, but they have the smarts. If the government can open its doors and make it happen, it would happen.

Senator Gill: Remember that when Bill C-31 was passed a Conservative government was in power. At that time, the question was raised as to whether the people were represented properly by their leadership. Now, in the province of Ontario, you have the party that forms the government, and the opposition party, the Liberals and the Conservatives; and, federally, you also have the Bloc Québécois, and the Reform Party. In addition, you have all kinds of organizations representing the opposition, within the structures. Furthermore, you have engineering, medical, and many other associations representing people in different ways, be it politically, professionally or otherwise. That is not the case with regard to our native peoples.

Sometimes native women criticize the band council. Sometimes they have a valid point, and sometimes they do not, but that is all part of the game. Some people do not feel confident that their leaders speak on behalf them. What would you do to correct or improve this situation?

Mr. Nabigon: The Native Women's Association of Canada and other associations, including the AFN are protest and lobby organizations. That is what they do. Many organizations lobby senators and MPs. That is the nature of democracy, and it is a good system. I believe that this is one of the best systems in the world. If I lived in another country and I came up with these proposals, I would have been thrown in jail. I would have been considered a subversive.

Getting back to your question, the government decides what voice it will listen to. If it decides to listen to the AFN, that is what it will do. It has already played a major card in recognizing the Delgamuukw decision in British Columbia. I know that the AFN has close ties with Jane Stewart, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. That voice is recognized by the government. I would not want to be so arrogant as to tell the senators which voice speaks for the people, because you will decide who you wish to listen to. That is your decision to make. I am only the humble voice of the wind in the trees. That is all I am.

Senator Gill: As are we. If I understood you correctly, you see the community at the top of the pyramid, then a nation, and then a group of nations at the bottom, controlling the pyramid.

Mr. Nabigon: That is correct.

Senator Gill: Instead of turning to Ottawa, you see your own leaders representing the people at the top of the pyramid, Indians and Inuit, and controlling those issues that concern them respectively. Do you see something like this happening eventually? Are we dreaming when we think this way?

Mr. Nabigon: I do not think we are dreaming. According to our existing belief system, all the players are interconnected. In some small way I am connected to this committee by virtue of living and working in Canada and teaching at the university. I am connected, but at the same time I recognize that the people who are most affected are the ones who live in the communities. Their voice is important. That is why we want to turn the pyramid upside down. That way, when our leaders speak, they will do so as the voices of the people.

I can speak with authority on that issue. The chief of our First Nation has had no opposition. He has been like a traditional chief; he has been re-elected eight times. That is 16 years with no opposition. To me, he speaks for the people. There has been no change of leadership.

However, the communities that have a high turnover of leaders are not getting the quality of leadership they deserve. Their authority is recognized by Ottawa through the Indian Act. In some ways the Indian Act works for us, in other ways it does not. In this case, the leadership that the people elect under the Indian Act, is recognized by the federal government and that is the voice to which Minister Stewart listens.

The Chairman: In your paper you identified that there would have to be a national will, a substantial movement to deal with aboriginal matters, whatever their nature. You also spoke about the division of powers. In addition, you spoke about having the land claims dealt with once and for all, to put that aside, so they would no longer be obstacles to partnership arrangements in the establishment of self-governing bodies.

You also spoke about turning the pyramid upside down. Flowing from Senator Gill's questions, are you in the same frame of mind as he is in regard to establishing a mechanism that does not exist today within the central system -- perhaps not necessarily do away with the Department of Indian Affairs altogether, but at least move in that direction by establishing another mechanism that eventually will take over?

At the national level, aboriginal people elected from the grassroots level would be sent to Ottawa, I would imagine, along the line of Senator Gill's idea. Would it be acceptable to move in the direction of establishing an aboriginal assembly? Maybe not necessarily one aboriginal assembly, but there might be three aboriginal assemblies flowing from section 35 of The Constitution Act, 1982?

Mr. Nabigon: I do not know if that would work. If I understand your question correctly, it has not really worked in New Zealand with the Maoris.

Creating a special house with advisory capacity is not the idea of self-government. All it would then do is advise the government of the day on native issues. As I understand our elders, native people want to have the authority restored to the people. With that authority, we would have community development and access to capital to build the community. In my mind, that is how the national will is played out. The senior governments have the national will to open the doors and make things happen. Creating another layer of politicians who are elected by our own people, to sit as a native voice in a native assembly, does not really address the issue.

The Chairman: If they had more than a recommending function that problem would be overcome. Would it be acceptable if they were equipped with enabling legislation?

Mr. Nabigon: If they had the authority of enabling legislation, it would be a different matter altogether. That is part of the structure we are looking at when we speak about jurisdiction and legislative competence. That is part of the national will that is missing in the current government. They are doing some good things. I will not sit here and say that they are not fulfilling their responsibilities. Their recent publication, "Gathering Strength", is a good paper. It includes a community development strategy and it addresses some issues arising from the RCAP.

I know that in the real world nothing can ever be perfect. However, if we take incremental steps we will make progress. The fact that I am now teaching university is a step forward for native people. Twenty years ago, they would not even open the doors to us. Now, I am teaching there. There has been progress. It is very small.

What you are talking about is a good idea. Enabling legislation would address that advisory capacity. Why would I want to be advising Jean Chrétien? I have better things to do in my life.

The Chairman: Your brief refers to the division of power. You know that if you enter into negotiations you must bargain, there is a give and take.

Mr. Nabigon: I understand that.

The Chairman: Some of us as aboriginal people have been involved in these give-and-take negotiations. As a matter of fact, some of us have already gone through the steps that you have outlined. For example, the Inuit and the Cree of Quebec have gone through this in a very similar fashion to the way you outline in your presentation. After 25 or 30 years, we are finding out that things are not being implemented.

Dividing powers may not be the best thing to do if we are to be a nation of aboriginal people, to have a nation of our own and have a system of our own. I am speaking of something different from the two levels of order as outlined in sections 91 and 92 of the British North American Act. You are quite familiar with those.

Mr. Nabigon: Yes.

The Chairman: If we are coming in as a third party you recognize, of course, that we will be powerless. However, in the highest law of this country, in the Constitution, we are not powerless because we are recognized in that statute. If the national will is there, as you mentioned, that unfinished business could move ahead along the lines of what you are suggesting here. Are you in agreement with that?

Mr. Nabigon: I am in agreement with what you are saying.

The Chairman: However, you are not necessarily in agreement on the division of powers. I am having a problem with the part of your presentation regarding the division of powers. I know at some point down the line, if you have the tools with the enabling legislation, perhaps you will form formulate your rights and then you can negotiate if you run into a deadlock, but not before.

Mr. Nabigon: I would take an incremental approach to the one you are suggesting. The way the current system operates, Ottawa has a right to determine if I could be a member of my own First Nation, not my chief and council. Therefore, the division of powers must include band membership. I am talking about a very basic government.

The Chairman: You would have the basic authority that you need to have.

Mr. Nabigon: We would have the basic authority that we need, and then we would have the confidence required.

The Chairman: You are not really talking about a question of jurisdiction over the land.

Mr. Nabigon: Yes, I am talking about jurisdiction over the land because we must have some control over how this land will be developed. It is a phantom land base that I am talking about. We should have some control over that land.

The Chairman: We are also wrestling with the concept of "nation." At times, one community calls itself a nation rather than a collective of communities becoming a nation. Do you have any suggestions on how we wrestle with that question?

Mr. Nabigon: I apply the United Nations definition of nationhood. Nationhood involves a land base, and a people with common language and common traditions. The Ojibway nation -- the nation I come from -- surrounds all of Lake Superior. We are the largest aboriginal nation in Canada. We have a common language, a common land base, common traditions, common spiritual beliefs, and common ways of doing things. For me, that is a nation.

It is not restricted to the reserve, it is restricted to a region. Our history tells us we have been there 20,000 years, according to archaeological digs.

Senator St. Germain: I grew up in rural Manitoba in a Métis community. This may be an oversimplification, but I would like your reaction to it. If our native people are to share equally in our society, my view is that the greatest resource that they can get is education. I think you, and others whom I have met who are active in the native community, are living proof of that.

You told us that you want the authority given back to the people, which is fine, and the resources to make that happen. I believe that, apart from basic subsistence, the money should only be used for education.

In this committee we have discussed the importance of education with other native leaders, including those from Gillam, Manitoba.

The other point is that they must become mobile. Is it not possible to keep the focus on education and support mobility so that those who do take advantage of education can go to Montreal, teach in universities, or do whatever they must do, while helping to maintaining their nations and their communities? They can go back to their nations and share what they have learned. In this way, the people will not be left on the reserves where there is really nothing to do.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu went to James Bay and advised them to develop some industry there. I would point out, however, that you can develop all the industries you want, but you must have a market. The government built infrastructure in Cape Breton and tried to create certain industries, but everyone went broke because there was no market for the products. There are rows of empty warehouses and factories which had to be shut down because the market was not there.

What do you think? Am I off base or oversimplifying the situation?

Mr. Nabigon: I do not think that is an oversimplification. The government trying to make it happen by building a significant amount of infrastructure, with the market not being there to absorb costs of the infrastructure, is folly at best. In my view, it is flawed thinking.

Some 12 per cent of the general population of Canada have post-secondary education. In the native community, only 1 per cent have post-secondary education. We have a long way to go to catch up with the general Canadian population. Obviously, education is a tool. You must be able to read and write. It is basic. It is pretty obvious that, if I could not read and write, I would not be sitting here.

When we consider a community and its needs, we must take into account the isolation factor and the lack of markets. What kind of economy can you build in isolation that is not dependent on people? You must find some way to reach the market. Our communities have many ideas on that subject. We are not necessarily asking the federal government to relocate its bureaucrats to the north or anything like that. Why would I want a bureaucrat from Ottawa living in my community? It does not make sense.

What makes sense to us is secondary industry, ecotourism and those kinds of developments. There are many ways to develop this country and at the same time build stronger communities, not only for native people, but for all of us.

If our people are paying taxes as opposed to transfer payments, we would be better off. That is all I am saying.

Senator St. Germain: Do you agree that the vast majority of native people would need to leave the reserve to work in major industrial centres?

Mr. Nabigon: Many of our people are already migratory. That is not a problem.

The Chairman: Thank you for your excellent presentation. We will be communicating with you again.

Our next witness is Ambassador Simon. She and I grew up and went to school together.

Please proceed, Ms Simon.

Ms Mary Simon, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ambassador, Circumpolar Affairs: First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for taking on this challenge. I am looking forward to your report and the clarity that I am expecting you will bring to this complex and challenging issue. Thank you for inviting me to appear before you this afternoon.

As my contribution to the important work of your community, I would like to discuss several matters with you today that I hope can contribute to your special study on aboriginal self-government. I will, however, be confining my discussion to matters related to the Inuit, and the choices, as well as the contributions, they have made regarding the evolving issue of aboriginal governance.

The Inuit are responsible for important contributions to historic and ground-breaking work such as the establishment of the Nunavut Territory, as well as a number of comprehensive land claims treaties, all of which contain governance elements.

The Inuit are also very active in contributing to international fora and influencing the development of new policy initiatives.

Let me start with the choice Inuit have made, as expressed in the new Nunavut government, of a system of public versus ethnically based government. In my opinion, the debate around this choice should be viewed as a subjective rather than a qualitative question as to whether any particular system or set of institutions achieves what a particular people think of as their self-government objectives.

Self-determination and self-government are really processes. At this point within the new Nunavut Territory, it is too early to determine whether Inuit will find that the system of public government permits them to achieve their self-government goals.

When the Inuit were negotiating their claim in the 1980s, the federal government took the position that the creation of a new territory was not about aboriginal self-government. However, once the legislation was passed by Parliament in 1993, the federal government seemed to change its approach. Now, it often refers to the creation of Nunavut as an exercise in self-government for Inuit. This apparent change in communication strategy by the government does not necessarily reflect a change in position. Rather, it may reflect the view that self-determination is achievable within the public institutions of governance.

The federal aboriginal self-government policy states that Inuit groups in various parts of Canada have expressed the desire to address their self-government aspirations within the context of larger, public government arrangements, even though they have, or will receive, their own separate land base as part of a comprehensive land claims settlement. The creation of the new Territory of Nunavut is one example of such an arrangement on a large scale. Self-government arrangements in a public government context do not preclude consideration of other arrangements at some future date, provided that all parties concerned are in agreement.

The Inuit too see the new Nunavut government as their government, but not in an exclusive, but rather an inclusive way.

Permit me to quote Mr. John Amagoalik, known to many as the "father of Nunavut." He says:

There was a time when many of my generation did not have pride in our Inuit identity and were not sure if they wanted to be Canadian citizens. Today, there is a resurgence of Inuit pride and we have become loyal Canadians. Even though our people have encountered racial discrimination in the past, we want reconciliation and we want all to feel welcome in our homeland. Our patience and our willingness to share continue to be cornerstones of our society.

As the vast majority in the Nunavut Territory, the choice, and perhaps the gamble, that Inuit have taken is that, through time, a system of government will be moulded and re-examined to respond to the needs of the people of the region. It is a system based on democratic choice versus ethnicity and its associated rights. Only time will tell if the choice was a wise one.

Let me move on now to the contribution that Inuit have made to other expressions of governance in the area of policy making and policy development. The most current example is that of the Arctic Council. Formally inaugurated in September of 1996, the process leading to the establishment of the Arctic Council is an example of how perseverance and constructive dialogue can forge new relationships between aboriginal peoples and their governments. The category of permanent participants, which is for international indigenous organizations, was created to provide for the active participation of and full consultation with the Arctic indigenous representatives within the council. There are several important initiatives now being undertaken by the Arctic Council that contribute directly to aboriginal self-determination and to improving the ability of northern aboriginal peoples to make informed choices about their futures, including matters of governance.

The first is an initiative called Canada's Children and Youth of the Arctic. The goals of this project are, first, to improve the health and well-being of children and youth in the Arctic, and second, to improve the basis for sound decision-making by increasing the knowledge and understanding of sustainable development among that group. The longer-term objective is to engage and empower through internships or student exchanges, networking, and new learning opportunities, and provide them with a broader base for future decision-making.

The project is focused at this point on issues mainly related to environmental protection and sustainable development. However, the experience gained through the process of international cooperation will undoubtedly contribute to the ability of today's youth to become informed contributors to important decisions concerning future governance.

It is this next generation of Inuit youth who, perhaps more than any before it, will be challenged by the pressures of technology and rapid change. Whether they encounter their future equipped with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence to shape their social, economic and political future, or abdicate that authority, will depend on decisions made today.

We cannot contemplate a better future for northern children and youth without acknowledging the need for more and better educational opportunities. Closely linked with the Children and Youth of the Arctic Initiative is Canada's support for the proposed University of the Arctic. This "university without walls" will consist of a consortium of institutions of higher education cooperating to provide programs according to their own unique strengths. These programs will be available throughout the circumpolar region. The initiative has been conceived and driven by the aspirations of those whom it will serve, northerners.

Over the longer term, it is anticipated that the cooperation among educational institutions, regionally and internationally, will serve to raise the level of understanding and awareness needed to develop solid governing institutions based on northern needs and evolving capacities.

Another exciting initiative was the decision of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, with the support of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, to develop a northern foreign policy for Canada. The development of this policy has been based on a process of consultation with northerners, including territorial governments, aboriginal peoples, and their representative organizations. It focuses on harnessing Canada's foreign relations to achieve prosperity and human security in the north. It signals Canada's progress toward a more deliberate, sustained pursuit of clearly articulated objectives. It also recognizes, with the reshaping of Canada's own north, that solving many of our own northern problems, or capitalizing on the opportunities, will require concerted international action and cooperation.

The policy will be built around the central goals of securing the well-being and prosperity of northern Canadians, protecting and restoring the northern environment, and building a stable and prosperous circumpolar community.

One way this will be achieved is through the promotion of circumpolar good governance and democratic development. At the same time, however, the policy recognizes the special role indigenous peoples play in this process and will put in place a set of objectives to pursue the involvement of indigenous peoples in Arctic international decision-making, and the recognition and enhancement of their rights.

Canadian Inuit have an important role to play in this process. We already have examples of how, with the support of the federal government, they are reaching out to assist indigenous peoples in Russia by working with them to develop their institutions as an important first step in the work towards reform, good governance, and democratic development. This work is helping these indigenous groups to marshal their own human resources to meet the challenges of institutional restructuring.

Now in its final stages, the draft policy document will be further discussed in the north before it becomes a final policy statement. Northern, territorial, regional, and local governments, as well as aboriginal organizations, will continue to be involved in the identification of priorities for government action as a result of the policy and in the implementation of any decisions.

One might ask, what do these processes have to do with self-government? I firmly believe that there is much to be gained by becoming involved in Canadian and international policy development. Maintaining a domestic focus only, ignores a very important opportunity for influencing international fora and using those institutions to promote Inuit aspirations and protect their rights.

We are increasingly part of a broader world community, which presents both opportunities and dangers. To ignore either is short-sighted. As Inuit self-determination and self-government evolve, the involvement of Inuit in these processes can contribute to important thinking about these issues.

I kept my presentation fairly short because I understood that the important part of this session is the question and answer period. Therefore, I will leave it at that for now.

Senator St. Germain: First of all, what is international fora?

Ms Simon: International organizations like the UN, sustainable development.

Senator St. Germain: Is that a Latin word? I have never heard of it before.

Senator Pearson: It is the plural of forum.

Senator St. Germain: Is it? Well see, I learned something tonight. At least I am honest enough to say that I do not know.

The previous witness said that approximately 1 per cent of our aboriginal peoples are not even graduating with a secondary school education. Some of us believe that the only resource that will really assist our aboriginal people is education.

Is anything being done to encourage the young to further their education? There must be a problem somewhere. Education often relates to the environment in which one is raised. I want everyone to understand what the word "fora" means. Can you tell me?

Ms Simon: I agree that many young people are still not graduating from secondary education. We must do more to promote education at the community level. Nevertheless, the number of graduates has increased quite a lot. In the Canadian north, we have seen an increase in students who graduate from high school. Much of that has to do with the fact that higher education is being offered in more communities.

When Senator Watt and I were going to school, we could only go up to grade 6 in our community, and then we had to go elsewhere for further education. That was at a very young age.

There were a significant number of problems related to being sent out of the community to school, not just in terms of residential schools, but in terms of being separated from your family and the culture shock that was part of the process. Education is improving in terms of staying in school.

Certain things are being done to promote education in Canada. One is a national program called "Stay in School". That program is being implemented more and more in the north, where some of our leaders are talking to our students about staying in school. That helps to promote the idea that one needs a formal education to be competitive in everyday life and in the world.

As young people often remind us, they must depend on a wage income in this day and age. Preserving the traditional way of life, even though it is still extremely important and is a priority for our culture in the north, is not the only thing they have to do. They need an education so that they can find employment. However, the problem is that there are very few employment opportunities in the north. This is a catch-22 situation. If young people receive a higher education, there are not necessarily jobs for them at the community level, which creates another problem.

I also mentioned in my presentation the Arctic Council project on children and youth, the second part of which is related to education and internships. Young people or students can go to different countries to learn about different activities that are taking place in the circumpolar region. I will give you an example.

In the north, we have an understanding about sustainable development. It provides a sensible way of managing resources, not over-exploiting them. That system is not understood very well in the south.

When leaders in the south and the north talk about development issues, the discussion is more in terms of sustaining the environment. It is not about sustaining the communities or about developing sustainability within the community. We want to engage younger people and learn more about what development is all about, not simply in terms of protecting the environment, but also in terms of employment opportunities while maintaining a high standard for environmental protection. These are some of the things we are doing in the north that will help promote better education for students and young people.

Senator St. Germain: I think you said that there must be a mobility factor. You can have the best education in the world, but what if there are no jobs? The people must be mobile in order to move to the jobs. Young people are telling you that they need the financial resources to maintain a reasonable lifestyle, and perhaps that can only be had in the south.

This notion runs counter to what you are saying -- that sustainable development is not only a question of maintaining the environment; it is also a question of maintaining the community. The two concepts run counter to each other. How do you reconcile this?

Ms Simon: This all relates to the governance issue this committee is studying. I do not think it is in the people's interest to move out of the territory. As far as I am concerned, no one really wants to move away from their own community. In fact, it is difficult sometimes to get people to move from Keewatin to Baffin Island, which are northern communities, let alone to get them to move from the north to the south. I do not think we will see a real movement in terms of people leaving the territory.

The challenge is to figure out a way to provide more opportunities for northerners. The new Nunavut government is an example of how, through governance, some of that can take place. I think people will have more control over their education. People will have more control over how economic and social development take place at the community level. As well, self-government will provide them with more authority over what kind of development takes place in the north, and it will allow them to negotiate conditions with developers that will bring economic prosperity to the north.

This is a very complex issue, but the bottom line is that government institutions must be in place to allow for that kind of involvement from aboriginal communities to take place.

Senator Johnson: Can you tell me what you do as Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs?

Ms Simon: I do many things. When I was appointed ambassador, I was asked to negotiate the Arctic Council. I was appointed four-and-a-half years ago. The agreement took over two years to negotiate. The council consists of eight Arctic nations and four international indigenous organizations. Following the creation of the council in 1996, I chaired it on behalf of Canada for two years.

When the chairmanship went to the United States recently, Minister Axworthy asked me to develop this northern foreign policy. I have spent most of my time travelling in the north, consulting with northerners, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. We are in the process of writing the policy.

I then have about 25 or 30 other files that I work on.

I advise Minister Axworthy and Minister Jane Stewart, to whom I report on domestic and international issues, as the need arises.

Senator Johnson: Thank you for that. It leads into my question about how aboriginal peoples in Canada can tie in to the existing governing structures of the Arctic Council. This relates to our study on aboriginal governance. There are, of course, challenges for aboriginal people to overcome in order to implement self-government. How do you view the Arctic Council and those other eight countries with which you are working in terms of governance?

Ms Simon: A good example is the principle that the Canadian government has adopted; that is, whenever we go to any Arctic Council meetings, I am generally the head of delegation, but we ensure that northern peoples are involved. We have representatives from the three territories now. As well, the leaders of indigenous organizations such as the Dene, the Yukon First Nations, and the Métis are invited to be part of the Canadian delegation.

In addition, we have the permanent participant category, which is one below member states. There is agreement that they participate in all the deliberations. The only difference between a member state and a permanent participant is that it is the eight member states that make the decisions in the final round. However, because the permanent participants do a significant amount of lobbying with the Arctic nations, they influence the decisions much of the time.

Therefore, in terms of a government at work, you can see more and more partnerships being built between the aboriginal representatives and northern governments, as well as nation state governments.

That is an illustration of how governments can work together. It is still a long way from being perfect, but I think it is the first time that organizations have been formally accepted into an international governmental organization like the Arctic Council.

Senator Johnson: What is your experience with the self-government aspirations of aboriginal peoples in the other Arctic Council nations, such as Greenland?What is happening on this matter in other countries with aboriginal populations?

Ms Simon: It varies from region to region. In Greenland, they have had home rule government since 1979. There are many similarities between the act in Greenland and the Nunavut Act. Agreements were negotiated with Denmark and ministries were transferred to the Greenland authority over a period of time rather than all at once. There are similarities with what is happening in Nunavut.

In regions such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland, they have what they call the "Saami Parliaments," which are part of the state parliaments. They do not have full authority, but more of an advisory role to the parliaments of those countries.

Senator Johnson: They act in an advisory capacity?

Ms Simon: Yes. Their decisions must go before the Norwegian Parliament. They make recommendations on certain issues. One of the difficulties of the Saami people is that they have no land base, which has made it very problematic in terms of creating governing institutions.

In the case of Russia, there is really no system in place at this point. I referred briefly to a project in which the Inuit Circumpolar Conference has been involved. It is funded through CIDA and is trying to help them develop their institutional capacity. Not only are they not familiar with how to govern themselves, but they have not been able to develop their capacity in the area of non-governmental organization status. Under a project that has been in place for two years, Russian aboriginal peoples have come to Canada to learn about the different regions in the north. I think it is helpful.

Senator Johnson: How do you think they view our new territory and what we are doing there?

Ms Simon: The response has been phenomenal all over the world. This has been widely talked about, not only in the circumpolar north but worldwide. Aboriginal peoples generally have seen this as an example of how partnerships can be built between aboriginal peoples and others within a nation state. It is seen in a very positive light.

Senator Johnson: You have very exciting work ahead of you, and behind you.

Senator Pearson: I would like to follow up on the subject of children and education. You have provided us with an excellent presentation and we appreciate it a great deal. It helps to clarify some of the governance issues we have been looking at. It is a model of non-ethnic, public governance in the ways of cooperation. As you say, we must wait for the future to see what happens, but we are optimistic.

You are fairly advanced in involving young people in decision-making processes. There is a circumpolar youth group, is there not? Can you tell me about how the younger people are becoming involved in the political structure or being prepared for political life?

Ms Simon: In terms of the circumpolar effort, there has been work done over the last 10 to 17 years in terms of involving youth. They have been involved in the Inuit Circumpolar Conference itself. Every three years, the Inuit have an international gathering that represents Inuit from the four countries: the United States, Greenland, Canada, and Russia.

We take a hands-on approach and involve them in the deliberations. Involving them in the work of the ICC, as one example, has been a positive initiative. We are starting to see more leadership from the youth than we did in the last 10 or 15 years. Our age group was the last group that worked together, and then there was a bit of a lapse. Now we are starting to see a resurgence of interest from the youth on both national and international issues.

One of the reasons I have pushed so hard for children and youth projects at the Arctic Council is so we can involve young people in the work of the different countries, as well as in things like on-the-job training. On-the-job training really works well for many young people, and we are trying to promote that through the council through internship programs.

In Northern Canada, there are different youth organizations that have joint meetings almost annually. The leadership in the different regions work very well together and this encourages young people to become involved.

The involvement of elders is very important in the Inuit community, as is the involvement of youth. The combination is producing more results and we are very happy about that.

Senator Pearson: That is exciting news. We look at people like Senator Watt and yourself, who were very young when you started out. As you were saying, in a way, there is a generation that was missed, but this is an opportunity to work together on things, to share a task with young people. That brings them into networking as well as reinforcing their interests. That is quite exciting. There is a structure now and it is not sporadic. It is something which should continue.

Organizations that work on aboriginal self-governance must always look at ways to involve the young people in doing tasks together with elders. That is really the way to get good interactions taking place.

Senator Gill: My question is related to Senator St. Germain's question. In my area, some artificial towns were created some years ago, towns such as Labrador City, Wabush and Schefferville, James Bay and Radisson. Senator St. Germain was talking about the mobility of manpower and this is a related subject.

Most of the workers in those areas are non-aboriginal. People from the south are coming to the north, being trained, and then working there. Yet most of those towns were built close to an aboriginal population. We have been doing these crazy kinds of things for many years and I imagine the same thing is happening all over Canada.

The more development that occurs in the north, the more marginalized the aboriginal people become. We spend lots of money to train these non-aboriginal people, who sometimes commute every week to the south. Big gymnasiums and other attractions are built to give these people the impression that they are still living in the south. Meanwhile, a native population is nearby, ready and waiting to be trained.

Can we connect the employment needs with the development? We talk about eco-tourism, ethno-tourism, and mining. There are so many kinds of activities possible in the north. Can we connect these new activities with the young people and the training schools? Why can we not train those in the north for these industries instead of having to import people?

It would take planning but we have the resources. Of course, the government would have to be involved. We should stop these crazy activities and use the people who are on the spot. What is your position on that?

Ms Simon: This has been a contentious issue in the north and in other aboriginal communities. I agree that, for many years, and even now, when development proceeds in the north, people who will work in that project are moved in from the south.

There is, though, a movement to change that. Senator Watt could speak to the particular agreement which was signed in Nunavut with the mining company. That is one example of how to negotiate agreements with developers to not only provide an opportunity for an organization like Makivik to share in the revenues, but also to provide for training of people who live in the region. Falconbridge has done that with their mining operations and people seem to be quite satisfied with the way things are going.

That kind of negotiation and agreement can take place between the two parties. It is not always equitable in terms of negotiating power, but it depends on the particular situation. It must be done on a case-by-case basis.

To refer back to the Arctic university again, the intention is to create a virtual concept. There will not be a big building called the "Arctic University." It will tie in different universities within the circumpolar region as well as in Canada, and not necessarily just Arctic universities. They will provide training in the home communities through the new technology that we have now through the Internet and computers. That will help train people for certain professions that are required on these development sites.

That training is a potential and a partial answer to the problems we are facing, but it is still definitely a big issue.

Senator St. Germain: Is there any tax concession given to Falconbridge to hire aboriginal peoples? Are the youth brought in at an early age for some kind of work-exposure program so that they can relate to, and dream of one day, being the "head honcho" of a particular department? Is any of that programming happening?

Ms Simon: I cannot answer on the issue of tax concessions. The Chairman may know the answer to that. Certain benefits are derived on both sides, for the Inuit and for the developer.

The Chairman: There are certain benefits. They have tax concessions in part from the Government of Quebec. They must also commit that during X number of years, they will hire a certain percentage of Inuit people into the workforce in different classifications or positions that need to be filled.

Senator St. Germain: Is Quebec a leader in this area?

Senator Gill: They are right now but they were not before.

The Chairman: No.

Senator Adams: After the Nunavut celebrations, I heard that some of the military will no longer be in Nunavut in the future. There is a significant interest in the military in the Arctic. There used to be a headquarters in Yellowknife, but now Nunavut is separate from the Northwest Territories. The Dew Line, and manned bases and so on, no longer exist as they did in the past. Everything is now automatic in the territory. Do you have any feedback with regard to the military? They used to conduct many exercises in the Nunavut area. I heard the general was not too happy, because he could go wherever he wanted before, but now he may have to ask permission from the Nunavut government before he can engage in any military exercises within the community.

Ms Simon: I am sorry, but I do not know the specifics on your question. When we were developing the northern foreign policy, we met with a number of military colonels. They never indicated to me that they had a problem. In fact, they said they were looking forward to working with a new northern government so that they could continue to work on security issues.

Since the Cold War ended, security issues have changed quite dramatically. It is no longer about military security. It is now more related to environmental pollution and human security. The concept of "security" in the development of northern foreign policy will be much broader than just military security, although that is still given a priority.

There are many players in the whole process now, whereas it used to be basically the federal government's domain. Sovereignty and security issues were really the work of the federal government. There is a recognition now that there are territorial governments and organizations, and the concept of security has broadened dramatically. In that way, there must be a significant amount of work done with territorial governments such as Nunavut. They indicated to me that they were looking forward to working with them on that issue. I have not confronted the problem that you expressed.

Senator Adams: Now that Nunavut is settled, we have two or three more treaties such as Inuvialuit, Makivik, and Labrador. How do you see the future of land claims settlements for those living in Northern Quebec? Labrador is part of Newfoundland and Inuvialuit is mostly settled now. How do you see those two or three claims being settled in the future?

Ms Simon: I can see each one being dealt with on a case-by-case basis, keeping in mind the federal policy related to the settlement of land claims agreements as well as negotiating agreements on self-government.

For Makivik and Labrador, there is the question of provincial negotiations, which brings in another layer with which Nunavut did not have to contend. It makes the negotiations more difficult, especially in light of the aspirations that Quebec has for its own future and the idea that the native people or aboriginal peoples should work within the confines of those aspirations. The Inuit of Quebec have clearly stated that they are not interested in that. They want to keep their ties with the federal government and that makes the negotiations more complex. The Labrador case is, again, different, with the development of the minerals.

I do not know as much about that agreement as I do the Makivik situation or Northern Quebec. However, how they proceed also depends on the Newfoundland government. It makes the issues more complex when you involve the provinces, but it is a necessary element of the negotiations.

For Inuvialuit, a large part of their progress will be determined by how quickly the Northwest Territories can agree on a new constitutional arrangement within the territory as well as with all the other aboriginal groups. It is more complex in the west because you have so many different aboriginal peoples who all have different needs and different objectives in reaching self-government agreements. Even the Dene Nation cannot come together on a common approach to settling their land claims or their self-government issues. Much of the Inuvialuit's ability to settle their claim will be determined by how quickly the Northwest Territories agrees on their new constitution.

Senator Adams: Do you see a problem if Inuvialuit wanted to join Nunavut? Would the government prevent that?

Ms Simon: I do not know too much about that right now.

The Chairman: Both of us have been involved in the negotiations and the implementation of the so-called "James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement" and Eastern Quebec agreement.

Recently, we had a witness in front of this committee from the Cree-Naskapi Commission that was set up to monitor the aboriginal side in regard to the agreement, to determine whether the legal obligation of the government is being fulfilled.

In their recommendations, they suggested that this committee should seriously consider making recommendations on three areas. One is related to the fact that they are having a great deal of difficulty implementing the legal binding between the aboriginal nation -- the Cree Nation -- the Naskapi, and the Crown.

They also expressed quite strongly the view that they should not be formulating policy any longer because those agreements are legally binding between the aboriginals and the government. That means that the Minister of Indian Affairs will have a remaining trusteeship responsibility for that, plus there will be certain identified programs that she will have responsibility to ensure will continue to be enjoyed by the people who are under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

There may be a lack of will or lack of understanding, because there are probably three or four ways to understand the spirit of the agreement, and its letter and intent.

What do you think about the recommendations that were brought forward? You have also been involved in the implementation side, trying to arrive at an implementation mechanism between the Inuit and the federal government. Those are only recommendations; they do not have teeth. This is one of the areas identified by the Cree-Naskapi Commission, which said they need something more if the government is to honour those legally binding agreements.

I would like your input, Ambassador Simon, on this area.

Ms Simon: First, I have not seen the actual recommendations. Therefore, I cannot comment completely on the actual recommendation itself. I can, however, give you an overview of what I think is the situation.

It is very difficult for a government department to have implementation responsibility over a comprehensive land claims agreement such as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, as well as the northeastern agreement, simply because they are the trustees of the people. To me, if you are overseeing your own responsibility, you sometimes, probably not intentionally, do not see the obligations that you are entrusted to carry out. I have seen that happen. I remember, when we were involved in the tripartite agreement between the Inuit and the federal government, the difficulties that we had in interpreting what those agreements meant. Often, the provisions set out in a land claims agreement can be quite ambiguous or vague, and they can be interpreted, as Senator Watt said, in three or four different ways. Whose word do you then take in terms of how you implement that?

A more independent process would be helpful in ensuring that these agreements are implemented properly. I agree that there are legal obligations in many of those agreements that are not necessarily carried out, and someone should be watching over how they are being implemented. If those agreements have already been signed, then we should not have to renegotiate them. There is always room for interpretation of how they should be implemented. I know that many times, the legal interpretation comes into question.

The Chairman: By the same token, the same group that made the recommendations also suggested that, since those are legally binding agreements, when aboriginal groups challenge the government in the Supreme Court of Canada, they always win. That was one of the points that they raised. They also suggested that an interim aboriginal court should be set up to assume the responsibility on the new legal terms, and it will be used to educate the Department of Justice, and then that department can be more accessible to the other departments for education purposes.

The third recommendation basically says that, since the Department of Indian Affairs has trusteeship responsibilities and also administers the Indian Act, it should not be the one negotiating with the aboriginal groups because it would be negotiating with itself.

Could you give us just a broad comment on that? I am not really looking for a detailed answer. I just want your reaction to those points.

Ms Simon: I already addressed the trusteeship question.

I have not seen the recommendations in writing so it is difficult for me to comment on them. I am not a lawyer, so I really do not know how you set up an aboriginal court. I do agree, though, that there must be more independence in terms of how those agreements are implemented. That is something that this committee will examine, I am sure.

The Chairman: Thank you, ambassador. We appreciate your very clear presentation.

The committee adjourned.